Five seek First Ward seatPublished 9:32am Wednesday, December 2, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
For three hours Monday afternoon into evening, Mayor Pro Tem Leon Laylin and his committee of Second Ward Councilman Bob Schuur and Third Ward Councilman Dr. Charles Burling interviewed nine candidates for two Dec. 7 Dowagiac City Council appointments.
“Whoever gets it will be sworn in that night and be seated on the board,” Laylin said.
Quizzed for Darron Murray’s First Ward council seat were Junior Oliver, Bob Mortimore, Howard Hall, Tonnie Blackamore and Ron Leatz.
Seeking Wayne Comstock’s seat in Second Ward are Dave Daniels, James Dodd, James Benedix and Nancy Leonard.
Each candidate was allotted 15 minutes.
Today let’s look at First Ward:
Oliver was with the Fire Department and ambulance service.
He was an adult Scout leader for 11 years.
Oliver also took handling hazardous material training at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
Oliver, who attends every council meeting, “would have been doing it years ago, but with the hours I worked I wasn’t available. I have a real, true interest in this city succeeding. I have been doing research trying to get different companies to come here for over a year now. I average 30 hours a week searching through Internet financial records and talking to people who work for them to see if they will come to Dowagiac. I want this place to stay here as close to like it has been as we can or better.”
“I see a lot of people who have complaints they want to talk about,” Oliver said, “but they won’t come forward with it. I think I can sit down with them and present it in the right way. Most people talk outside of somewhere like this, but they won’t come here and say anything.”
The most important criteria for a council member “is to make sure the city stays financially stable and that the people are represented,” Oliver said.
“I certainly do” agree it’s okay to agree to disagree,” such as “something that’s going to be financially detrimental to the city.”
“Our ward is not much different than the others,” Oliver said. “I think every ward in this city is treated pretty much the same. Physically, we have a lot of streets that are bad or there are no curbs where they would be helpful, but there’s no money for that.
“I would mainly try to make sure everything was kept to where it’s presentable for people coming into our city. We need to try to impress people even more than what we do now that this is the city where you want to be. The biggest thing I can see is we need to get some small shops or something going in here to get some more work back. I’m willing to do anything I can to make this city a success.”
Oliver noted that he received a call earlier Monday from a hydraulic company for more information after three queries in the previous two weeks.
“We appreciate all the extra work you’ve put in trying to bring business into this community,” Burling said. “That’s incredibly honorable, Junior, and I deeply appreciate it.”
Mortimore noted this is his third attempt to secure appointments to the council which previously went to Jack Alexander and to Donna O’Konski.
He regularly attends council meetings. He was a constable in the early 1970s when he lived on High Street. In the community, Mortimore has been involved in Rocket Football and Little League Baseball.
Mortimore was UAW LOcal 90 president in South Haven for 17 years.
“It’s time to think up other ideas in Dowagiac,” he observed. “Dowagiac is going downhill. I drove all over town. Houses are going down. As far as industry, it’s gone. It’s over. We’re going to have to come up with some kind of ideas to bring people in here to spend money.”
Mortimore attends council meetings to “know what’s happening” without relying on “hearsay.”
He wants to “find out what might happen and what will not. I’ve been here since 1954. You hear everybody talk about parks and recreation. It’s nice, but it’s not the answer.”
Council members “are obligated to try to do their best to make it to all council meetings and to have an open ear for the folks who put you in that office,” Mortimore said.
It’s important to agree to disagree “because there isn’t anyone who has all the answers.”
Slowing down speeders is a pet issue Mortimore often brings before the council.
Also, “There are a lot of houses that need to be repaired. Let’s see if we can’t get more help for people who cannot afford to fix them. Help each other. The city as a whole, we have to replace the industry that is gone. So we have to think of something to draw people into Dowagiac to buy things,” such as a boat and canoe launch.
“You hit on one of my favorites,” Burling said. “I’d like to see the Dowagiac River cleaned up, opened up and re-established all the way down to Heddon Park.”
Mortimore questioned council members about how they were paying bills and meeting payroll without achieving a quorum at either November meeting.
“That’s under the jurisdiction of (City Manager Kevin Anderson),” Laylin said. “Bills that need to be paid immediately would be taken care of, with the council confirming them at the next meeting.”
“Across the board, he can’t just start paying bills because he wants to,” Burling added.
“We have authority to stop payment if we see it is necessary,” Laylin said.
Hall, who posted candidates’ resumes on the Dowagiac Informer, said his Web site will have a float in Friday’s Christmas parade.
Hall for his seven years in Dowagiac has provided free computer classes and repairs for seniors and volunteers at schools. He is vice president of the new Fine Arts Booster Club.
“I think I’d be a good councilperson because I know most of the people in First Ward. They come to me now if they have issues with the council,” Hall said. “They know they’ve got an ear. I’ve always been involved with politics. I worked for the Obama and Clinton campaigns. I’ve been involved in every presidential and governor’s race one way or another since I turned 18. I enjoy politics. I attend the meetings here because a lot of the residents, especially in First Ward, don’t come to the meetings. They know I’d be a good councilman because I’m in touch with First Ward residents and, as you know, I’m not intimidated or scared to bring something in front of the council if there’s a problem. But most of the time, I agree probably 98 percent of the time with what the council does. The 2 percent I don’t, I speak out and the council takes action, such as electric.”
“I don’t think you can find anybody else in the City of Dowagiac who puts as much time into the community as I do,” Hall said, from helping the Pokagon Band with its pow wow to donating team-building and leadership training to the school district. He still contributes to Sister Lakes Kids Night Out, though his two children are years past elementary school.
“We’re working with the library now to adopt a family for Christmas presents,” he said. “We’re doing the same thing with Fine Arts Boosters, adopting two families. I think what appeals to me the most is First Ward residents are skittish and the same four or five of us show up” at council meetings. “Then I take myself out into the First Ward, knock on doors, find out what their issues are, then I can bring them back to you. I don’t think actual outreach to the people has been done a lot in the First Ward. Council is community service and to be a good one, you have to be in touch with your community with a proven track record for giving back to the community.”
Agreeing to disagree “is why you have six people on the council,” Hall said. “One may not agree and think about it differently, but if the other five agree, it will still pass. You can’t put six people in a room twice a month for a whole year and have them agree all the time.
“The Russom Field project is a good first step toward getting kids something to do. The mayor said you can’t run a program with volunteers and he’s absolutely right. I have a lot of great contacts with the camping industry that I could bring to council. You could get grant money to hire one person for the summer and go from there. I think you’d see a decline in the school dropout rate. When I ran against Darron I lost by a small margin of 30 votes.”
Burling said the perception that there is no discord among present council members is “skewed” by them getting packets ahead of the meeting and asking questions of Anderson in advance about the administration’s proposals.
“A classic example is electrical rates. You brought out some issues we hadn’t thought of,” Burling said.
“It’s always nice to have an extra set of eyes.”
Blackamore, grandson of former First Ward councilman Sam Fowlkes, graduated from Union High School on his 18th birthday in May 1986 and for 12 years has been pastor of New Harvest Church.
He serves the community through food and clothing drives and tutoring.
Blackamore attended Southwestern Michigan College.
“Someone who would be a council person should have a heart for people,” Blackamore said. “I’ve been to about three council meetings because of scheduling conflicts. I am proud that I am a Dowagiac person. I was born here at Lee Memorial, went to old Pat Ham, Justus Gage, Central. I was married in Dowagiac. I have pastored in Dowagiac. I’m raising my (four) children in Dowagiac and I have (two) grandchildren in Dowagiac. I bleed orange and black.”
“I’ve always wanted to help whoever I can, whenever I can, like my grandfather. He loved it. Darron did such an awesome job I decided not to run against him. A councilman should be able to listen to the concerns of the people in your ward and try to come up with some kind of plan to aid them in whatever their problem is.”
Agreeing to disagree leads to one of his favorite words, consensus.
“For the greater good of the majority,” he said, smiling. “I’ve been married for a while, so I’ve learned very well to agree to disagree.”
In First Ward, “I’d like to see some of the houses filled up, though I know that’s citywide because I took a ride. We need to come up with some kind of a plan to get jobs here.”
Leatz, former fire chief of a 28-member fire department in Victorville, Calif. (pop. 100,000) sold fire apparatus – about 75 units – after retiring.
As a fire official he purchased seven units. He graduated from Santa Ana College in California in 1974 with a fire science degree. “I was a consultant on the new fire engine,” Leatz said.
Eight months ago he became host of the Amtrak station. He’s there seven days a week when available.
He opens the depot on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, then the Police Department closes it.
Leatz served on the Victorville Fire Advisory Board.
Each of five council members had two representatives on that panel. The council didn’t meet with the fire chief on budget, personnel and apparatus issues.
Rather, the advisory board attended a monthly meeting with the Fire Department and reported back to the council.
Ron, a St. Joseph native, and Ann, a Dowagiac native, retired here by choice almost five years ago after living in 17 communities.
In 2005 he ran as a write-in candidate against Donna O’Konski.
“I felt in my short time in town people on the council weren’t representing people in their wards,” Leatz commented. “In 2007, I put in for the appointment that went to Lori Hunt.”
His interest in government “probably came from my father,” a Berrien County supervisor who ran for state Senate.
“I don’t think you can complain about a community if you don’t come to the meetings. The gentleman who ran against Mayor Lyons had only been to one meeting,” he said. “We’ve been minus a lot of representation in my ward for the last year or two if you take attendance. One of my things is to have a townhall meeting. If people in the First Ward have a problem or don’t like what’s going on and we don’t know about it, we can’t fix it. Five people can’t do everything when there are 5,000 in town.”
In addition to regular meetings the second and fourth Monday every month, each candidate was advised of other duties, such as an all-day Saturday retreat in January, a two-day trip to Lansing in April and another overnight legislative excursion in September.